Harmless or Dangerous? What to Look for in Moles and Spots on the Skin
May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a timely reminder to pay special attention to your skin. Now that the days are growing longer and the weather is getting warmer, you will probably spend more time outdoors. Whether working in the garden, enjoying a swim, having a barbecue, or partaking in some outdoor sports, it is always pleasant to bask in the sun’s warmth.
However, too much sun exposure can be damaging to your skin. Overexposure to UV rays affects the DNA in your skin and can cause skin cells to become cancerous. As we head into summer, May is an ideal time to think about adopting safe and proactive practices for your skin, and one of those is keeping an eye out for signs of skin cancer.
The ABCs of Skin Care
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in America, affecting one in every five people in their lifetime. With that high incident rate, skin cancer is something everyone should be aware of and pay attention to. In addition, it is essential to catch it early; in the late stages, melanoma, for example, is one of the deadliest cancers.
Regular preventative skin checks with your primary care physician or a dermatologist can help detect skin issues and cancerous moles; however, there are some steps you can take on your own to discover whether you may be at risk. One of the easiest ways to self-evaluate a mole or a potentially suspicious skin spot is by following the “ABCDE guide.” This acronym is easy to remember and will help you identify whether your mole or skin spot may be cancerous, benign, or require further evaluation. Conduct a thorough assessment of your skin, and get help examining moles on your back or other hard-to-see areas. Here are some things to look for.
A: Asymmetrical Shape
Evaluating the shape of a mole helps determine whether it’s benign or possibly cancerous. Benign moles are symmetrical; cancerous ones typically are not. If one half of your mole looks different from the other and is not symmetrical, it may be a sign that you need to have that mole checked by a professional.
Cancerous moles typically have irregular borders. They are not defined and curved but irregular and uneven, sometimes looking more like blotches than moles.
Moles of multiple pigments or moles that change color over time may be cancerous. Healthy or benign moles are typically one solid color and have an even tone, while cancerous moles do not.
A typical mole is usually the size of a standard pencil eraser or smaller. Anything larger than that should be checked regularly to ensure your skin is healthy and the mole is not cancerous.
An evolving mole changes over time. If the size, color, shape, or sensation changes, you should have it checked by a professional. If the mole or skin spot suddenly becomes itchy or painful, bleeds, or looks like a sore that won’t heal, you should seek professional care.
When to Seek Medical Care and Treatment
If you’ve evaluated your mole or skin spot and still can’t determine whether it’s harmless or dangerous, or if the mole or skin spot is causing you concern or discomfort, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or dermatologist to have it examined. At your appointment, the physician or advanced practice provider will examine not just the particular area of concern but will likely examine all of your skin for any signs of irregular spots or moles. If anything warrants further investigation, the doctor may perform or order a skin biopsy to confirm whether your mole or skin spot is benign or cancerous.
If cancerous, the primary care physician or dermatologist will refer you to an oncologist for further diagnosis, staging, and treatment. Your oncologist will discuss treatment options with you and create a personal treatment plan based on the specifics of your situation and disease. Fortunately, when it comes to skin cancer, there are many exciting immunotherapies and other options available.
Skin cancer affects the lives and health of millions of men and women every year. While people with fair skin are more likely to develop skin cancer, everyone is at risk. Regularly checking your moles and any suspicious skin spots and scheduling yearly skin checks with a healthcare provider are ways to be proactive about your health.